I am the news today, oh boy: A recession writer gets laid off
On Wednesday, the Chicago Tribune laid off 50-some editorial staff writers, including myself. This places me, a journalist of 20 years experience, in the uncomfortable position of being the news (in some small part) instead of covering it.
Yet beneath a statistic that can tell the story about as well as a toddler pooping his pants, other realities exist that must and will get explored. Like: The Chicago Tribune Company petitioning a bankruptcy court at the same time to award $13 million in bonuses to people very much unlike me and my displaced colleagues, folks who make their living and buy yacht club berths off the sweat of our collective labors.
There was the extremely disingenuous memo sent out by senior editorial staff, which talked about positioning the newsroom for the future. The lede, as they say, was buried–read paragraphs down and you’ll see that the Tribune is trying to deal with the worst economy since the Great Depression. Really? No news there. The real news is that the Tribune now soldiers on without an art critic (as the Art Institute is weeks away from opening the biggest addition in its modern history). It loses gifted people like Lilah Lohr, the best word editor in the entire features operation, and Pat Reardon, an unsurpassed veteran who combines institutional memory with the productivity of a hungry, 25-year-old rookie. Robert K. Elder may not be a senior veteran, but he was by byline count the most productive writer in all of features, a newsroom force.
Yet for me, the cruelest cut of all comes in losing my job while covering, at management’s request, the recession by telling my personal story of family finances. “The Recession Diaries” blog was a beat I did not want nor ask for, and it involved me telling very tough stories about my own family finances–stories that led me and my wife to squabble many times over which details to withhold, which to print, and which ones looked inappropriate in print after the fact.
I wanted to post a final blog Wednesday to readers explaining that I had lost my job, a victim of the very recession I covered. I posted this without management’s approval. I then informed management. Management took it down.
[Editor's note: Lou has added the blog post in a subsequent entry. Click here to read it.]
That’s not my loss, it is the reader’s loss. As many emails attest, I was becoming a friend, a confidant, a trusted voice to thousands of hurting people. And in one swipe yesterday, the Chicago Tribune took that away from them without any explanation. It explains in no small part why the Tribune is losing readers like a trauma victim loses blood and internal organs.
It’s also why I now feel at least partially vindicated to devote more attention to True/Slant, an enterprise that represents the exciting and bold future of what news and commentary can be. Sad as I am, I waste no time getting back to work, the work of my life that I love, and to serve a group of readers that help me participate in a bold experiment.
Let’s hope and pray that it works beyond our wildest dreams.